Milk crisis talks to discuss halt to blockades

A temporary halt to protests is expected to be agreed at two key meetings over the milk crisis today (Monday).

The main dairy buyers, including Dairy Crest, First Milk, Arla Foods and Robert Wiseman Dairies have reversed the milk price cuts planned for 1 August following more than a week of demonstrations at bottling plants and supermarkets.

Farmers for Action welcomed announcements by the large milk producers to delay or scrap milk price cuts of around 2p/litre, but said more work must be done.

As a result, the blockades will be temporarily halted while further discussions take place over the next steps for farmers to take to achieve a fair price for their milk going into the winter.

Andrew Hemming, vice-chairman of Farmers for Action and a dairy farmer from Solihull, said: “The blockades have come to a temporary standstill, but they could return and target any producers or organisations who we believe are not giving farmers a fair deal.

“We welcomed the decision to reverse the cuts on Friday. It was a step in the right direction. But we are part of the way there and we are determined that we are going to go the whole hog.

“We are going to have a few days now where we are going to ask questions (of milk producers and supermarkets) and hope that we will get the right answers.

“We are now going to monitor the processors, asking the questions of their customers. All the processors must make sure that everybody is getting a fair price.”

Mr Hemming said one of the main aims was to get assurances from milk buyers that farmers would receive a fair price for their milk before 1 October and going into the winter.

“We have got to be talking about a realistic price for dairy farmers, which reflects the current high costs of production,” he said. “A reversal in the earlier cuts of May/June is a top priority.”

Mr Hemming will be meeting other dairy farmers and farming union leaders, including the NFU, in a dairy industry coalition meeting at Meadow Foods in Cheshire today (Monday).

The Tenant Farmers Association also welcomed moves by most retailers and major milk processors to rescinding milk price cuts, but said there was more work to be done”.

TFA national vice-chairman Stephen Wyrill said: “These announcements represent a great first step. but there is still much to be achieved. The work of the coalition of farming organisations will continue to achieve a much better basis for the long-term marketing of milk”.

But he added: “Whilst we have seen the removal of the threat of the August price reductions, there is still the issue of the May price reductions to discuss as well as putting flesh on the bones of the heads of terms agreed for the voluntary code. The discussions on those will start right away.”

Meanwhile, around 500 Scottish dairy farmers are expected to turn out for a rally at Lanark Auction to decide the next steps in the ongoing row over milk prices.

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead was due address the dairy meeting organised by the NFU Scotland and update local farmers on Scottish government action in support of the sector.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Lochhead said: “As price-takers, our dairy farmers are getting the rawest deal of everyone in the supply chain, clearly being squeezed by intense competition in the retail and milk processing sectors.

“If retailers want to discount the price of milk on their supermarket shelves to try and attract footfall because of the cut-throat competition between them, then it shouldn’t be the dairy farmers that pick up the bill for this.

“That is why we must do all we can to provide protection for our dairy farmers to ensure a much fairer environment for people to trade within.”

Mr Lochhead welcomed the reversal of milk price cuts by the major milk suppliers and said progress was finally being made towards agreeing the voluntary code of practice between dairy producers and processors.

Last week, national farming leaders and the industry body Dairy UK agreed a draft agreement with milk processors over a voluntary code of practice designed to give farmers more bargaining power.

“However, this is just one piece of the jigsaw and there remains much more to do,” said Mr Lochhead, commenting on the draft agreement.

“That is why I will be attending the dairy rally in Lanark on Monday to re-affirm my commitment to doing all I can to secure a better deal for our farmers.

“I will update the local farmers on our progress to date which also includes continuing with our plans to consult on legislation, that will provide a statutory framework for the recently agreed EU dairy package.”

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